Reviews

Trespass (2018) – 2 stars

Director: Jonathan Foulston

Writer: Jonathan Foulston

Cast: Harriett Neville, Gregory Layhe

Country of origin: UK

Running time: 5:30 mins

Short films are deceptive pieces of art. They are often mistakenly demoted by aspiring directors to the realm of training exercises – rungs on the ladder to be clambered over in preparation for the ‘real deal’ of creating a feature film – but thanks to their reduced running time, they can fall apart on the basis of one or two split-second decisions. While a feature film has the space required to recover from a couple of dodgy calls, if a short drops the ball for even a second, it can greatly diminish its overall impact.

That is precisely the problem Jonathan Foulston’s Trespass suffers from. The Norwich-based Writer/Director has crafted a film that is at times a thing of beauty in terms of aesthetics, but falls short in terms of content. Ultimately, while it is built on a solid – if predictable – premise aimed at dissecting the gender norms of the horror genre, a lack of punch in its editing, and a failure to stay true to initially minimalistic sound design mean that it ultimately falls flat in its delivery.

The Director of Photography, Marcell Csillag, particularly deserves great credit for the visual prowess of Trespass. Throughout the fleeting five minute run-time, the Argento-esque screen is swimming with vivid reds and crawling with menacing shadows, something which significantly elevates the quality of the film. At the same time, Foulston’s sound editing is also due recognition throughout the largest part of the film, holding off on the overbearing jump-scare score which so many student-made horror films fall victim to. Instead, the eerie silence which presides over the majority of the film effectively builds a sense of dread, underwritten by realism, before a churning synth-score begins to crank up the tension further.

Harriett Neville gives an earnest performance as Esme, a young woman who meanders thoughtlessly through her flat, late at night, apparently unaware she is being watched. Unfortunately, the scripting and editing of her dialogue constrain her to a relatively one-note conversation which does little to develop sympathies for her either way, serving rather transparently as a point of heavy-handed exposition instead. So over-egged is this exposition that, as a result, the coming ‘twist’ becomes all too predictable, and the audience is left counting down the moments until hunter becomes hunted in the film’s conclusion. When the reveal arrives, it underwhelms – being shown loses its power to shock when we have already been told.

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Further diminishing the film’s potential impact, what should be a relatively simple ending is botched, as the Director seems to have been caught in two minds. While low-budget horror shorts are often bemoaned for their use of ‘cut to black’ endings, there tends to be a good reason for this; namely that they are productions which do not have the resources to pull off an especially gory set-piece. When Trespass reaches this juncture, however, it handles it especially poorly, as after the cut to black we are treated to a suite of sounds presumably crafted by slamming a carrier bag filled with minced beef against a dry-wall. If that weren’t on the nose enough to tell the audience “someone has been killed”, the action returns to the screen, and we see the murderer lying contentedly next to a conspicuously bloodless corpse.

The lack of restraint shown by the filmmaker’s over-the-top sound effects and slap-dash editing here do a great disservice to what had been the film’s best assets. Unfortunately, this is the risk taken when a fledgling Director attempts to tackle a genre as finicky as horror in such a short time frame. The devil is in the detail, and a few small lapses in judgement can see an otherwise passable film leaving audiences like they have been talked down to.

Overall grade: Trespass stars

It would be a patronising failure on the part of any reviewer to overlook the sins of this film because it is ‘just a student film’. Unfortunately there is not enough of substance here to overlook the film’s flaws. While Foulston and his team show a great deal of potential to make stylistic and suspenseful films in the future, this particular outing is ultimately let down by a failure to trust the audience to figure out what is happening for itself. On the other hand, should they chose to learn from these errors, this group of filmmakers could well have a bright future.

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